The Problem With Goals

I attended this two day yoga workshop this weekend and received some tough love/much needed real talk that led to a light bulb moment that I’m still mulling over. This is not a post about yoga. This is a post about the problem with goals, or rather, how we set our goals. It just so happens that yoga was the vehicle that drove this point home for me. You don’t have to love or even care about yoga to relate to this post. My guess is, we’ve all experienced the downside of poor goal setting and could use the kind of real talk I experienced over the weekend. Or not. Your call. Either way, here goes!

So I have all these goals for my life, right? And sometimes, ok, most of the time, I get really frustrated with myself and my life and my lack of current progress in said goals. I get down right sour. Why am I not accomplishing these things? I say to myself. Why can’t I move forward in this area? I bemoan. Why do I suuuuuck? I cry and cry and cry.

I am very critical of myself. I get that. But also, I realized over the past weekend that I am a very poor goal setter. I’m unrealistic. I set the bar too high, expecting to jump from point A to Z without B-Y. Then, when I can’t leap the chasm between where I’m at and where I want to be immediately and with very little effort applied, I cry. I get angry. I beat myself up. I assume that I’m the worst ever and get really down in the dumps. And then, for the coup de grâce, I stay down in the dumps because I also happen to have a very strong will. This means that I won’t give up on said impossible goal, I simply run myself repeatedly into the proverbial brick wall and wonder why I’m so pathetic to not be able to tear down the wall. (Never mind you with your, “Haven’t you ever heard the definition of insanity?” Yes. Yes I have. And so have you but I bet there are things that youuu do over and over while expecting a different result each time so just step off, ok? We are in this together.)

Take yoga for example.

I have all these goals. Big goals. Little goals. But mostly just big goals.

This weekend at a yoga workshop, the instructor said something that blew my mind. She was walking around the room as we were working on some basic drills – like super basic – and said the following to everyone in the room: 

I’m not trying to be mean. And I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. But why would you be try to attempt a handstand if you can’t even do a proper jump back into chaturanga?


You see, we were in a workshop dedicated to arm balances and inversions, and we were currently working on our sun salutations which include chaturanga, a basic yet crucial yoga fundamental. Her point was this: She was looking around the room at a lot of yogis with big dreams but sloppy basics. Our goals were good, but our goals were too big if they didn’t first include all the little goals that precede the big goal.

The instructor went on to say that holding advanced poses in our mind as “the goal” creates a mentality where we feel good about ourselves when we accomplish the poses, but angry and frustrated when we can’t.

Um…Yes. Guilty.

She encouraged us to make basics and fundamentals our focus, so much so, that we naturally start to progress towards more advanced poses. The goal, she said, should be that we end up arriving at the more challenging poses without even realizing it.

This was such a lightbulb moment for me. This past year I’ve made chaturanga my focus. It’s kind of like a yoga pushup. Because I’ve spent hours – literally hours and hours – working on this pose, I’ve found arm balance poses to be much more accessible. But the key is that I DIDN’T make arm balances the goal. Instead, I focused on the non-flashy hard work of solidifying the basics that led me to the next level.

Are you with me?

Let me put it this way.

I love to eat. I love to eat well. Dinner for me includes several dishes, and I want them to all be healthful and tasty. I want to know what I’m making for dinner in advance, and I want to have a refrigerator full of all the ingredients I need, making said dinner prep a snap. I want to enjoy preparing our dinners, not rush around like a mad woman last minute, wondering what I can make with whatever I find in the cupboards 30 minutes before my family starts to get all needy and whiney about how huuuuuungry they are.

My goal is to have a great dinner that is healthful and tasty that I enjoy eating. But that isn’t really THE goal, is it? It’s the final goal. My first goal is weekly meal planning. My second goal is disciplined grocery shopping where I stick to my menu based shopping list. My third goal is to have a meal plan based on my family’s calendar or weekly events. My fourth and final goal is to implement the cooking of the meal plan with the groceries I bought that fit the needs and schedule of my family.

See what I’m saying?

I can’t just make “eating well” the goal without all the prep work. That’s crazy. Good food won’t just magically appear just because I want it. And yet…how often do I set my goals with that mentality? Unfortunately, truthfully, the answer is: way too often.

Goals are good. But we tend to only be good at setting really big goals, and forgetting about all the little goals that get us to the big goal.

We neglect the basics. We are out of touch with our current reality. We despise the hard work of the boring things and instead would rather day dream about our big flashy goals.

But our big flashy goals ain’t happening until we get to work doing the little things that make the big things possible.

I don’t know what those little things are for you. I am having a hard time just thinking about my little things because, well, it’s humbling for goodness sake!

In yoga, I want to achieve my forearm stand but first, I have to focus on hamstring flexibility. Boring, but necessary.

In homeschooling, I want to do all these fun projects with Theo but first, I have to cover some basics with him that will set him up for success for next year.

At home, I need to remember that on the days where I feel like I’ve “accomplished nothing,” I’ve done plenty – even if it’s just keeping my family fed and comfortable. I don’t have to blog, workout, bake bread, do all the laundry, AND keep the tiny humans alive just to feel like I’ve done something. I mean, I do feel that way, but mostly because my goal setting is way out of whack!

Is this making sense to you? Bueller? Bueller?

This is such a tough lesson for me. I tend to compare myself to the best of the best in every area of interest in my life. The best moms. The best yogis. The best gardeners. The best Christians. And so on and so forth. And then, when I can’t go from my current level to their level immediately, I wilt. I feel terrible about myself.

This is just the absolute worst way to think and live, and I hope you don’t do this too, but if you do, then I hope you will take heart in the lesson I learned over the weekend.

First, we need to get better at setting our goals. We need to be honest about where we currently are, and set realistic, tangible “next step” kind of goals. Sure. Think about your end game, but make a bunch of little goals that you can easily work on and crush that will propel you forward on your journey, instead of constantly feeling like a loser because you can’t go from  never knitting to all-the-sudden-I-can-knit-a-cashmere-sweater. Or something like that.

And second, we need to remember that not being able to do something isn’t a sign of weakness or patheticness or whatever you want to call it. Our worthiness does not hinge on whether or not we can forearm stand, home school, garden, bake bread, have an encyclopedic knowledge of wild plant life, have flat abs, raise great kids, have an immaculate home, speak three languages, or read 80 pages a day. Ok. My worthiness does not depend on those things!

Gosh. You guys. That is seriously my list. How insane is that? I mean, really….

This year, I’ve committed to a willingness to be wrong. A willingness to not know. A willingness to be the dumbest person in the room, and be ok with it. I’ve committed to becoming the student. To showing up, with all my flaws and imperfections and letting them be known, so that I can grow.

I do have big goals. Lots of them. But the problem with goals is that we *cough cough* I, tend to set them way too high, and I allow my mental/emotional/spiritual well being to be determined by my level of success at accomplishing those way-too-high-goals.

Friends, this is such a miserable cycle.

Goals are fabulous. They mean we have a zest for life and yen for learning and a desire to know, grow, and experience. But goals must first be set from a place of loving and accepting where we currently are in life. We must first know that where we are is ok. We have to give ourselves grace, and then remember that this life is a gift. It’s a gift that we even get to explore new things and reach for new and exiting experiences.

We have to take care of the gift.

I don’t know if this will resonate with anyone else. Sometimes I look around me and it feels like all I see are people totally crushing it in every area of their life. I feel like people don’t get down on themselves for wanting more than they are currently able to achieve. But. I have a hunch that just because it appears that way doesn’t mean that is the way it truly is. So I hope this speaks to a few of you.

Let’s get better at setting smaller goals. Or rather, let’s get better at seeing more goals. Let’s think big – of course! But let’s also think small. Let’s think of all the little things we can do to help us reach our dreams. And let’s remember that it’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to not know. It’s ok to be the student. In fact, it’s probably more fun to be the student. We get to be the ones who admit to not knowing and just enjoy the journey of learning. We don’t have to know. We just have to learn. (I feel like there is some sort of snappy saying in all this. Like, Don’t know, grow! Or something like that. Too far? Ok…)

The only way we can set realistic goals and accomplish them is to first discover that line between what we are able to do right now, and what we hope to be able to do tomorrow.

Start there. Start small. And then – Start.

4 thoughts on “The Problem With Goals

  1. WOW. I so needed that right now … you have no idea! I literally have emailed back and forth with my mom for a week about this – well, dancing around the real issue at hand. Only I didn’t know what the real issue was until I read this. Thank you so much, Rebekah!

    1. I’m so happy to hear that, Katherine! I’m always amazed to hear from others who think like I do or who are experiencing similar things. It just goes to show that we need each other! Thank you so much for reading and sharing in the journey. ❤

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